British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson speaks during the second day of the Raisina Dialogue conference in New Delhi on Jan. 18, 2017.
Sajjad Hussain—AFP/Getty Images
January 18, 2017 1:19 PM EST

A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Theresa May has defended Boris Johnson after Britain’s Foreign Secretary compared French President François Hollande to a World War Two guard administering “punishment beatings”.

The famously gaffe-prone Johnson was asked, during a trip to India, about a comment made by an aide of Hollande’s stating that the U.K. should not expect a better trading relationship with the E.U. after leaving it, the Press Association reports. “If Monsieur Hollande wants to administer punishment beatings to anyone who chooses to escape, rather in the manner of some World War Two movie, then I don’t think that’s the way forward,” Johnson said.

Opposition figures were quick to object to his choice of language. “We are all aware that the Foreign Secretary has a habit of making wild and inappropriate comments,” a Labour Party spokesman said. “Talking about World War Two in that context is another one of those.” Johnson has previously caused controversy by suggesting that President Obama’s “part-Kenyan” heritage had led him to remove a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, decried Johnson’s comments via Twitter and called on Theresa May to condemn them.

May’s spokeswoman dismissed the outcry as a “hyped-up media report”. “He was in no way suggesting that anyone was a Nazi,” she said.

[Press Association]

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Write to Zamira Rahim at zamira.rahim@time.com.

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